MJ Nicholls's Reviews > The Book of Disquiet

The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
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did not like it
bookshelves: novels, the-art-of-loathing, tortured-artists, southern-europe

The Book of Disquiet is a LiveJournal blog as written by E.M. Cioran or Albert Camus.

Bernardo Soares, Pessoa’s leading alter-ego, imagines “the corpse of [his] prose” being “lowered into general oblivion” upon his death. This might have been the case had not archivists rescued his fragmented idlings from the black void and published them in this volume.

It strikes me, given Soares’s desire for extinction, and the delusion of posterity, that this selection of writing is redundant. What impact can one man’s daydreams, solipsistic tracts, repetitive observations, written from a chronically depressed mind, have on another? What is the function of this book? If the writer is so intent on being ignored, on doting on life’s gloominess, why should we waste our time lauding the prettiness of his prose?

Would he care that a legion of people find this book a philosophical masterpiece, that we empathise with his eternal struggle with everyday life, with his permanent existential misery? No: he is only happy in dreams.

This is similar to Marcel Benabou’s nonbook: it is the very fact of its valuelessness that gives it its value. In practice, at least. With The Book of Disquiet, Soares has written himself into extinction.
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Reading Progress

October 8, 2010 –
page 1
October 12, 2010 –
page 50
October 17, 2010 –
page 100
38.17% "This book is series of ponderous, profound observations of the futility of life told in the first person. Not sure how much more I can take."
October 30, 2010 –
page 201
October 30, 2010 –
page 201
76.72% "Almost there. This is a library copy so I only have three days to finish a book that is supposed to be read over a lifetime. Yippie."
Started Reading
October 31, 2010 – Shelved
October 31, 2010 – Finished Reading
January 3, 2011 – Shelved as: novels
August 1, 2011 – Shelved as: the-art-of-loathing
January 24, 2012 – Shelved as: tortured-artists
August 26, 2014 – Shelved as: southern-europe

Comments Showing 1-44 of 44 (44 new)

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message 1: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine I love them both but this:

The Book of Disquiet is a LiveJournal blog as written by E.M. Cioran or Albert Camus.

sounds horrific

message 2: by MJ (new) - rated it 1 star

MJ Nicholls I'm a little startled at its popularity. It's a book people don't ever complete, yet it still sits in their hearts. A cult-ish item, maybe.

message 3: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine I get that like ulysess although i did finish that. Or finnegans wake which i havent yet

message 4: by MJ (new) - rated it 1 star

MJ Nicholls Ha! The opposite of me: I slogged to the end of Finnegans Wake, but abandoned Ulysses.

message 5: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine i hate the last chapter of ulysses. If I hadn't been reading it for a class I wouldn't have finished that chapter.

message 6: by MJ (new) - rated it 1 star

MJ Nicholls Yes, stream-of-consciousness should be banned.

message 7: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine I don't know if I mind stream of consciousness specifically but there should definitely be laws mandating paragraphs and punctuation.

message 8: by MJ (new) - rated it 1 star

MJ Nicholls I think S-o-C has no value anymore as a technique. I read an Ali Smith book recently and didn't see any S-o-C that couldn't have been improved using proper sentences.

message 9: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine I enjoy proper sentences. I read an essay about how to write my freshman year of college by Orwell I think but it could have been one of those other guys about how you shouldn't make the reader work to get through sentences. Short sentences small words get your point across.

I mean it's a william James vs. Emerson thing. No matter how many great insights James has he won't get past emerson in the beauty of the text.

message 10: by MJ (new) - rated it 1 star

MJ Nicholls I do love an elegant, long sentence, and novels written with short ones can seem simplistic or patronising. Obviously the best books balance the two effortlessly.

The book I'm reading now has the most prolix, coily style out there, but is still awesomeness itself.

message 11: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine perhaps. I enjoy camus when he is being simplistic and short. The stranger to be exact

which one is that?

message 12: by MJ (new) - rated it 1 star

MJ Nicholls Loved The Stranger/Outsider.

I'm reading Will Self's Walking to Hollywood.

message 13: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine I know it is a perfect use of simplicity as a plot device.

I have one of his books. I believe the quantity theory of insanity

message 14: by MJ (new) - rated it 1 star

MJ Nicholls Ah! Quantity Theory of Insanity doesn't show Self's prose at its circumlocutionary best, but there are some good stories there. Worth a look.

message 15: by Jasmine (new)

Jasmine okay I will see if I can find it.

message 16: by MJ (new) - rated it 1 star

MJ Nicholls Tough, Tough Toys For Tough, Tough Boys is his best story collection, however, so is better to start with. How the Dead Live is his best novel.

message 17: by Megha (new)

Megha GoodReads' recommendation engine says I will like this one because I liked Blindness.

message 18: by MJ (new) - rated it 1 star

MJ Nicholls I actually feel a little remorseful for panning this one. People really love these profound aphorisms and scenes of life. I just found this cascade of misery tedious and insufferable. I do have a heart, honest, guv!

message 19: by Scribble (last edited Feb 12, 2013 08:02PM) (new) - added it

Scribble Orca Well, it's nice to see you buck the trend once in a while.

message 20: by MJ (new) - rated it 1 star

MJ Nicholls Scribble wrote: "Well, it's nice to see you buck the trend once in a while."

Oh, poetic misery! Oh, beautiful observation about the futility of it all! It's sad because it's true!

message 21: by Scribble (last edited Feb 13, 2013 02:38AM) (new) - added it

Scribble Orca Laura Warholic: Or, the Sexual Intellectual pays homage to this miserable purveyor of poetically observed futility....then again, in the hands of Theroux, that may not always portend a compliment.

message 22: by MJ (last edited Feb 13, 2013 02:54AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

MJ Nicholls Reading back through the comments here, I have changed my mind about stream-of-consciousness. I love it I love it I love it now, give me more and more and more of that lovely thought runny stuff yum yum

message 23: by Scribble (new) - added it

Scribble Orca Weathervane.

message 24: by Nefariousbig (new)

Nefariousbig MJ, I have always preferred my stream-of-unconsciousness, it's much better behaved, and funnier than my concious state. Or so I've been told! 8)

message 25: by MJ (new) - rated it 1 star

MJ Nicholls Frances wrote: "I have always preferred my stream-of-unconsciousness"

It is odd since stream-of-conscious does also mean stream-of-unconscious. Maybe stream-of-(un)conscious is the way to phrase it, rather uglyly.

message 26: by Nefariousbig (new)

Nefariousbig MJ wrote: "stream-of-conscious does also mean stream-of-unconscious"

Then what is it called when you're drunk? or passed out?

message 27: by MJ (new) - rated it 1 star

MJ Nicholls Frances wrote: "Then what is it called when you're drunk?


message 28: by Nefariousbig (new)

Nefariousbig HAH, LOVE!

nostalgebraist I'm not sure the BoD is a great work of art, exactly, but I rated it 5 stars but it's the only book I can reliably read when I'm in a bad mood. It has just the right combination of hopelessness (so as to not make my mood worse by comparison to some imagined future which I can't have because I suck) and gentle placidity (no outright despair, which would also make my mood worse).

In other words, it may be a morose LiveJournal, but there are states of mind in which a morose LiveJournal is the only suitable reading material, and this book perfects the form.

Grand Logothete "What impact can one man’s daydreams, solipsistic tracts, repetitive observations, written from a chronically depressed mind, have on another? What is the function of this book?"

Perhaps if you had read the book without the prejudice that you seem to have towards it, you would have come across the answer for your own questions:

"Art consists in making others feel what we feel, in freeing them from themselves by offering them our own personality."

If you've never felt emptiness, ennui or malaise, then consider yourself a happy, lucky man. For people whose lives aren't as satisfying or metaphysically settled and safe as yours seems to be by your comment, this book obviously resonates deeply.

Arukiyomi Pessoa did nothing that the Preacher hadn't already done in the old testament book of Ecclesiastes 2500 years earlier. That is a masterpiece and Pessoas's pointless in comparison. I think this review is spot on.

Grand Logothete What an odd, perplexing statement.
With all due respect, following that line of thought, one might as well say that Utopia is pointless because of The Republic, Rousseau's Confessions are pointless because of Augustine's, The Canterbury Tales are pointless because of The Decameron, Virgil's Georgics are pointless because of Hesiod's Work and Days, or even that Shakespeare's sonnets are pointless because of Petrarch's.

All these works have stood the test of time not by mere whim, chance or trend. Each stands on its own, despite their similar structure or approach, and in spite of dealing with the same themes (after all, given their universality and timelessness, they are bound to be a source of perennial inspiration). What matters above that is for example how the author expresses himself in it, how he makes his experience or his imagination come across, how distinctive, descriptive and authentic he appears to us. And in that respect, The Book of Disquiet is unquestionably unique.

Arukiyomi here's an odd perplexing statement:

"For people whose lives aren't as satisfying or metaphysically settled and safe as yours seems to be by your comment, this book obviously resonates deeply. "

You described my life, but Pessoa completely failed to resonate at all with me.

As for The Book of Disquiet being unquestionably unique, we can agree there. It's unquestionably the worst collections of musings I've ever read.

And because I used the word "unquestionably", any arguments you put forward will be rendered invalid.

Grand Logothete You seem slightly offended by my comment, though there was no intention on my part of achieving that.

I think the catch of the contentious nature of this dialogue between us could lie on the "I've ever read", which allows some arguments to aspire to validity, despite your "unquestionability".

I will concede that there's a chance you might have exclusively read sublime musings of outstanding literary and philosophical quality throughout your life, which would explain your opinion of it. If that is the case, then I congratulate you for your excellent taste, but your judgement of the book bears much less weight, much like a person who has listened solely to piano works of Liszt, Schubert, Mozart, Schumann, Beethoven, Chopin, Mendelssohn and then declares the Gnossienes of Satie to be the worst collection of piano pieces ever heard.

On the other hand, not all books strike a chord with a reader the first time they're read. Perhaps the book will reveal itself to you from a different perspective at a different time of your life? Perhaps not, but such a volte-face would hardly be a novelty in the history of reading.

Additionally, I wonder how much of the book's charm you must have missed, given the original language's virtuous musicality and rich, creative command that makes the author such a revered figure in his native country, which is also fair enough considering the unavoidable translation challenges so typical of a text with considerable poetic undertones.


message 35: by MJ (new) - rated it 1 star

MJ Nicholls For the record, chaps, this review reflects a reading from nine years ago. I'm furiously sceptical about my younger self's reading of any book.

message 36: by Dusan (new)

Dusan On the subject of S-o-C, have you read Anna Burns' Milkman?

message 37: by MJ (new) - rated it 1 star

MJ Nicholls ^ No, any good?

message 38: by Dusan (new)

Dusan Spectacular.

Grand Logothete It would be interesting to see how the book would fare in the eyes of your older, contemporary self. In my defense, there are books I have read in the past and abhorred, and later on, with a different mindset or experience, came to love... at the same time, some books just simply don't click, so anything could happen I guess.

Fare well, old chap.

message 40: by MJ (new) - rated it 1 star

MJ Nicholls Grand wrote: "Fare well, old chap. ."

Where you going? A Portuguese colleage of mine was recently screaming the virtues of this into my alert lugs, so your arguments have compelled me to read again. I've only ever done a complete U-turn on two novels in my reading life, Cortazar's Hopscotch and Sorrentino's The Sky Changes.

Grand Logothete Hopefully this will be your third 180° and it will work as a charm. Let us know how this second read turned out, matey.

Andreas Nearing the finish of this, and have hated every day, sentence, and word of reading.
It’s like a long, drawn-out yawn of a man dreaming the same dream every day without coming to the conclusion that should be obvious: kill yourself to spare humanity your incessant whining.
If this is Portugal’s finest(1-5) writer(s), then I dread what the next 95 have bestowed onto the world.

Grand Logothete You're entitled to your opinion, "de gustibus non disputandum est". Bernardo Soares may be an heteronym that failed to connect with you on various levels. Nevertheless, unless you have read the works from Pessoa's other heteronyms, you have barely scratched the surface of his oeuvre and your judgement of him as an author and his importance in Portuguese or European literature is fundamentally flawed, given that they all differ in tone, style, thought and even review or criticise each other at times.

It's up to you now to either establish permanently your appraisal of an author, based on a small fragment of the wildly varied output of a writer known for his myriad work and personalities, or to further inspect him in order to have a more complete understanding of him and avoid the risk of making ill-informed judgements.

message 44: by Ben (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ben Winch Resurrecting this old thread to point out two comments:

1) “It’s a book people don’t ever complete...” (MJ);

2) “Nearing the finish of this...” (Andreas).

I think if you’re reading The Book of Disquiet front-to-back, with respect, chances are you’re doing it wrong. If you’ve put all other books aside to complete it before moving on, you’re definitely doing it wrong. BoD was written in fragments, intended to have no particular order, over a period of decades. Pessoa certainly did not put all other projects aside while he worked on it. Great novels — maybe not all of them but some of them — invent and require new, or at any rate specific, methods of reading. I can well understand that any reader who attempted to read BoD from start to finish might well think it garbage; it would certainly be torturous. This book simply doesn’t function like most other novels.

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